The effect of the rain and warmer weather has benefitted wildflowers and bird life. Garlic mustard is everywhere, lady smock plants have been seen on at least two fields for the first time and the red campion is spreading.
The blackthorn has now finished flowering, but the May bushes are coming into flower. The copper beech is in full leaf and looking splendid while the yew hedge is covered with the yellow tips of new growth. As for the wisteria, it escaped the frost and looks magnificent. In the vegetable garden that invaluable source of winter green food, lambs lettuce, has now gone to seed and to the untutored eye looks very like alyssum. It like the nigella which is also in flower is entirely self-seeded as are the aquilegia.
I should share with you, perhaps motivated to a degree by coronavirus, our now much smaller vegetable garden is getting some serious attention. All that remains edible from last year are leeks. The rhubarb moved from the poly tunnel garden over winter either has a virus or was got by drought or frost. The remaining roots that were left behind provided us with many splendid deserts.
The pair of Canada geese remain with us and we now seem to have our own resident flock of seagulls. At least two of the nest boxes around the farmhouse are in use and there is a blackbird’s nest under the kitchen window. The bird feeder is well visited, sadly by jackdaws as well as more interesting birds, but these seem undeterred and aside from a variety of titmice, other visitors include green finches and the very attractive and distinctive goldfinches.
Only one swallow has been seen, and their nesting site remains empty. The moorhens have already hatched their first brood of fluffy chicks. We have here I suppose the reverse story of the ugly youngsters turning into a beautiful swan!
On Friday the suckler herd were released from the barn and Chris, with the help of Rosie and Boots, drove them across three fields to that by the road. They were all very happy to move and co-operated well. An eye will need to be kept out for ‘bloat’ since the change of diet to fresh spring grass can cause that problem.
The young stock after drenching were moved on Saturday onto field 4 to join the sheep already there. The number of young stock having been increased by those calves selected for weaning. The activity was very much a whole family activity with the children much involved. Next week a further four animals are going to Model farm which means that over the last month the number of cattle has been reduced by nearly a tenth. Having said that, it remains awe inspiring just to see how many cattle we have now.
Lambing, normally such a dominant feature of the spring, has been unusually trouble free. Losses at birth are currently at half the national loss rate, and the bulk of the animals are now on good grass. We still have a handful of last year’s lambs to sell but are not over concerned about that.
We hope to have in the freezers this summer both lamb and beef, subject of course, to making enough space!
Chris laboured long and hard to establish a grazing plan which meets the government requirements and also should provide sufficient feed for next winter. Of course as you will realise, planning in farming is all well and good but reality can overthrow intentions! We do of course have an example of that already as April showers now seem to have moved a month forward into May.
Work has continued both in terms of taking out old fences and in putting in place new ones. To do all this requires the continued use of contractors, and though the RPA contributes to part of the cost this is a very expensive business. However, the work needs to be done, and done professionally, and since the posts are guaranteed for fifteen years we shall – in theory anyway – not be paying out money every year after this to replace rotten sections. Work in the one field we never fenced ourselves will now have to wait to the autumn since the blackthorn hedge has encroached a long way.
You may remember photos of the damage done to the drive. Because we were unable to mend it quickly it seemed to act as a green light for other vehicles to treat the verges with contempt. On Saturday Martin came in specially to fix the damage and with so many working from home, few motorists were delayed.
Writing of the RPA I am able to now confirm that two of our three claims have just been paid. These were cleared for payment on the 6th February. I think that says it all about that organisation. As to the third claim, despite efforts by our local MP and the Farming Advisory Service (who have done all they can but feel they can do no more), we are no further forward. It feels as if, rather than the left hand being unaware of what the right hand is doing, the little finger of one hand has no idea as to what the third finger is doing. How useful it would be if Ministers saw their first responsibility as being the service their department is responsible for.
This farm, like most of this size, can barely afford one paid member of staff. To operate in this way requires considerable input from family, friends and contractors. As farming became less and less profitable, diversification or, if you prefer, finding additional income streams became vital. The downside of this of course is that these activities have to be staffed by family members whose availability to help on the farm is reduced. In our case as Anne and I become ever less able to contribute physically, on any risk analysis the most threatening is illness.
Coronavirus has already caused great problems for small to medium sized farms. So far, we have not been troubled by that, but Tim, whom many of you will have met has a key caring role for his very aged mother. Her health over recent months has become an increasingly concerning matter and the knock-on effects on Tim’s availability are obvious. I write this paragraph with great reluctance as Tim is a very private individual – which is why you never see him in photographs – but, leaving aside farm issues, our concern for his mother, Tim and his sisters needs to be acknowledged.
I have often complained about the ‘teaching’ of philosophy at Oxford in the early 1960’s. That is in no way a suggestion that philosophy is unimportant as philosophers have had enormous influence from Plato and Socrates onwards. It is impossible to underestimate the later influence on the modern world of lines of thought expressed by John Locke in the late 17th century and developed or built on by Thomas Paine in the late 18th century. I deliberately wrote, built on or developed, because there is much disagreement between philosophers about the matter. I think it fair to say that Locke was the more pragmatic as Paine was an idealist of great passion who managed to fall foul of many. As an American you have the choice of seeing either man as lying behind the revolutionary constitution. What neither man supported was slavery and it remains a mystery how Paine with his ardent anti-slavery beliefs went along with the small print of that constitution. Such important figures in our thinking and forgotten by too many.
Philosophy at Oxford in my time and probably still, though recognising the roles of such as Descartes and Kant, essentially diverged from the European philosophers of the 18th and 19th century in France and Germany which perhaps is explained by the failure of the ‘romantic movement to attract substantial support in Britain. There remains a gaping hole between the analytic approach of the English speaking world to philosophy and that of the continent which can be described as a phenomenological approach. The first I find sterile but at least possible to understand, the latter I find either unsavoury or more often just verbose and unintelligible. I have not yet forgotten my attempts to take seriously “The philosophy of Boredom” by a Norwegian ‘philosopher’.
The programme ‘In our time’ recently, considered the works of the Bronte sisters and in particular Wuthering Heights. Books I confess I have never read or feel any inclination to read. Romanticism was certainly found in this country in literature and poetry – think of Byron – but is very hard to pin down elsewhere in English history. Why, if it did, did the romantic movement of the mid18th to mid-19th centuries pass England by. Was it because of the events of the 17th century, the development of the Industrial Revolution or the political events of the Napoleonic wars or just a gap in the collective psyche?
Society here was certainly alive with conflicting thoughts. It was a hothouse of radical thought, pseudo-scientific rubbish, dislike of ‘aliens’, prejudice, injustice, arrogance and sentimental notions of a happy bucolic past, tensions between sectors of the Christian church, spiritualism, gothic romance, luddites, nature lovers and naturalists and an overriding sense of exceptionalism
Perhaps it had much to do with immigration, social mobility, the recognition through geology, zoology and biology that the world was much older than previously imagined. Or was it that there was an acceptance of freedom and thought and certainty that freedom was solely about physical actions not about what went on in people’s heads.
And yet the 19th century saw major reforms in politics, welfare, housing, health and civic organisation. Fundamentally perhaps, the question cannot be answered simply because of the lack of any clear definition of what romanticism means or indeed ever meant.
A comment by Mr Johnson, unusually, caused some thought on my part. I have never, I think, concealed my distaste for sociology for which feeling Talcott Parsons must carry most responsibility. Since I have never had reason to think leopards can change their spots, Johnson’s words rarely trouble me, but on this occasion, I found myself thinking just how subjective our individual thinking is and how it obscures rational thought.
The comment was about the present situation proving the existence of society and was promptly jumped on as a rejection of words attributed to Margaret Thatcher. Whether out of trouble making or loathing of the individual concerned, her comments, if read as a whole actually reflected very accurately mainstream thinking then and now. Aside from Durkheim I cannot think of any sociologist of standing who would find anything to argue with in what she said.
Similarly, how many bear in mind when thinking of her with hatred recognise that it was Harold Wilson who began the closure of coal mines in around 1961 and who in 2021 would argue for coal mining? The truth is that she did what needed doing on behalf of the whole nation, rather as Neil Kinnock did later, in sorting out the Labour Party, if only for his efforts to be swept away by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. An uncomfortable fact normally swept under the carpet was that our hero Arthur Scargill, like the good communist he was, lived like a lord as coal miners families struggled to put food on their tables.
So though the sound and sight of Mrs Thatcher on the television caused the instant switching off of the radio or television set in our household, that did not necessarily reflect our views on her basic policies, I do think we rather demean ourselves if we lose all objectivity. And having been immersed in the 17th century and late 18th century in my reading and thinking, I have some sympathy for poor Corbyn who, as many before him failed to realise, a bell curve of political thinking in this population is essentially normal in shape and probably has been for centuries. Napoleon was to a degree right in seeing the British as shopkeepers at heart – boring, pragmatic and individualistic.
Finally, I found myself feeling this week, after listening to new recordings of Beethoven’s Symphonie by Adam Fischer, thoughts I had not had since listening to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the now demolished Winter Gardens Auditorium. Did Beethoven have a serious problem in managing to end these works – hearing a symphony apparently reach an end only to go through the process another five times I found rather a turn off a view not shared by others in the family.
I have chosen this week to end with a poem by Charles Williams – the third member of a group in Oxford known as the Inklings, the others being Tolkien and Lewis. All three were committed Christians and writers. CS Lewis an author known as least as much for his stories for children as his many, very readable writings on faith.
‘When Absence, as beneath the moon a cloud,
Love o’er all reach of circumstance distils,
Devotion’s convent-walls to thee seem vowed,
And steep toward thee the pass of labour’s hills :
Upon all friendship thou who art no friend,
Or art by but an accident of grace.
Dost indirectly thy great worth expend.
And hold’st the least acquaintancy in place.
All friendliness hath reason for its cause
As born of honour, custom, or delight;
But thou, unreasonably the fount of laws,
To thine own harm dost lesser loves incite.
Such strength springs in them from thy love — O rare !
That with thyself they vie and would compare.’